by Suzanne Labry
Bikers Like Quilts, Too!
When thinking of groups of people who appreciate quilts, motorcycle riders certainly aren’t the first population that comes to mind. Ever since Marlon Brando roared onto the screen in The Wild One (the 1953 film based on the 1947 motorcycle riot in Hollister, California) and made a cultural icon of the rebel on a motorcycle, bikers have been romanticized as outlaws along the lines of Hell’s Angels, Bandidos, Pagans, and the like—not exactly the traditional image of a quilt lover.
But we all know that stereotypes are wrong. And an enterprising quilter and a quilt shop owner are doing their part to break down the typecasting.
Barbara Manning is a quilter based in Saratoga, New York who makes quilts especially for bikers. Barbara learned to quilt from her mother and her first love is traditional hand quilting, having mastered 22 stitches to the inch!
When her brother-in-law—who is rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle—asked her if she could do something with all of his old bike rally T-shirts that no longer fit him, she made him a T-shirt quilt. He loved it, as did his friends.
That was the start of what has turned into a side business for Manning. Her day job is working at a restaurant frequented by bikers, and when they found out about what she had done for her brother-in-law, they began bringing her their old T-shirts and asking her to make quilts for them. Finally, she was asked to set up a booth at a biker “swap meet” (sort of a motorcycle flea market where cyclists bring their old parts, accessories, and gear to sell or trade).
“That was really my introduction to the biker world,” Barbara—who doesn’t own a motorcycle herself but sometimes rides as a passenger—says. “These guys will bring me a box of T-shirts, and I give them back something that captures their memories. I tell them to pick out one T-shirt that they want as the center of the quilt, but then I make all the other decisions. I use everything, even pockets and sleeves if they contain images, so the end product is always a surprise for them. Every shirt reminds them of stories and it is such fun for me to listen to them. I love to see them smile!” She markets her quilts through her company called Bikers Like Quilts Too.
Despite their outsider image, motorcycle clubs have a strong charitable aspect to their culture. Helping club members in need, children, and military veterans are causes especially prevalent among bikers, and Manning has done many fundraiser quilts for their activities.
She has also made numerous biker quilts from the T-shirts of club members who have passed away. These are given to the loved one of the deceased. “Everybody thinks that bikers are big and bad, but that is just an image,” she says. “They do so many good things.”
Bikers are a social bunch, and there are many meet-ups and rallies across the United States and Canada. For the past 76 years, the granddaddy of all biker rallies has been held annually in the small town of Sturgis, South Dakota. Each August, thousands of enthusiasts from all over the world come to share their love of all things motorcycle (the official estimate for attendees in 2015 was 739,000 people—the normal population of Sturgis is a little over 6,500).
Terry Koontz is the owner, along with her son Chris, of Fabric Junction, a quilt shop in Sturgis. About eight years ago, she came up with the idea of creating an annual fabric design that commemorates the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Manufactured by Robert Kaufman, the 3,000-yard order of fabric has sold out every year. “As soon as I post the new design on the website, people start calling to get fabric for their rally-based quilts,” Koontz offers. “During the rally itself, it is mostly men who come into the shop. They buy fabric for their wives, girlfriends, moms, and sisters, but they also buy it for themselves.”
The rally has a reputation for getting wild, but Koontz doesn’t see that at her shop. “If you’re coming to Sturgis just to get drunk and crazy, you’re not going to be coming to see me at my fabric store,” she says. “Most of the bikers are there to see the bikes and enjoy all the rally has to offer. And some of them like to take home fabric for a quilt that will remind them of their experience.”
How’s that for a stereotype buster?
Quilter Barbara Manning frequently sets up shop at biker swap meets
Terry Koontz designed this fabric for the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Each year, she creates a new fabric for exclusive sale through the Fabric Junction, the quilt shop in Sturgis, South Dakota that she co-owns with her son.